WASHINGTON (TND) — An alternative to trees developed by scientists in Serbia is currently trending on social media.
Floated as a potential solution to filtering carbon dioxide and providing oxygen in dense urban areas, "liquid trees" are simply tanks filled with water and green algae that supposedly help fight pollution.
Featured in EuroNews in 2022, the "liquid trees" idea trended on Thursday after a couple of social media accounts began sharing videos and images of the innovation.
Those new videos have attained millions of views so far. The EuroNews YouTube account posted its own video on the topic a year ago, but has only attained around 8,500 views.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) also featured the "first urban photo-bioreactor in Serbia," which it called "LIQUID3" in a Sept. 2021 article. That article shows photos that indicate it is the same installation as the one featured in EuroNews's report and the currently trending videos.
The UNDP says that it was the “Institute for Multidisciplinary Research” of the University of Belgrade that gave the project, which it designed, the moniker of "liquid trees" and that it "is a completely new biotechnological solution for air purification and reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in urban areas where its concentrations are highest."
More than half of the population of Serbia lives in urban settlements, even 59%, and that number is constantly increasing," Resident Representative of the UNDP in Serbia, Francine Pickup, is quoted in the article saying. "This greatly affects the density of settlements, the quality of life, the increase in the number of vehicles on the streets, pollution and the increase of harmful greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is estimated that cities are the source of as much as 75% of total CO2 emissions in the world, of which the largest percentage comes from traffic and cooling and heating in buildings."
According to Pickup, the "liquid trees" installation "is an efficient and innovative solution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality" in urban areas that often lack open areas or spots where landscaping could place regular trees and other green installations.
Bojan Boji, head of the Department for social affairs and development projects in the Municipality of Stari grad. explains the features of the LIQUID3 installation in the UNDP article.
The photobioreactor is a completely new biotechnological solution for air purification and the production of oxygen. In an aquarium of six hundred liters of water, we have algae that bind carbon dioxide and produce pure oxygen through photosynthesis," Boji says.
The project is designed to be multifunctional," Boji adds. "LIQUID3 is also a bench, it has chargers for mobile phones, as well as a solar panel, thanks to which the bench has lighting during the night. The municipality of Stari grad has decided to support this project which directly contributes to improving the quality of life of our fellow citizens, public health and cleaner environment through using smart and innovative solutions."
The microalgae in the LIQUID3 installation is said to be able to replace two 10-year-old trees or about 200 square meters of lawn by Dr. Ivan Spasojevic, one of the authors of the project from the Institute for Multidisciplinary Research. Dr. Spasojevic adds that the "advantage of microalgae is that they are 10 to 50 times more efficient than trees," according to the UNDP.
The algae used is reportedly single-celled freshwater algae that can grow in tap water and are temperature resistant.
This project aims to popularize and expand the use of microalgae in Serbia, because they can be used in wastewater treatment, as compost for green areas, for the production of biomass and biofuels, as well as for air purification from exhaust gases from the factories," the UNDP reports.
The project isn't intended to replace trees, according to Dr. Spasojevic, but it is meant to help where trees cannot.
Our goal is not to replace forests, but to use this system to fill those urban pockets where there is no space for planting trees. In certain conditions of great pollution, trees cannot survive, while algae do not mind that pollution," Dr. Spasojevic says in the UNPD article.
Many online are skeptical of the project, but many were also supportive, calling "liquid trees" a "cool idea." Some even joked about drinking the green water.
The National Desk reached out to the UNDP about the "liquid trees" project, asking if there were any updates to share. In response, UNDP said that there were no updates to share other than some private Serbian banks have decided to purchase the LIQUID3 installation and donate it to local communities.
The UNDP also gave TND an "exclusive heads up" about its new "green initiative favorite" project: Bugs that eat plastic.